Tuesday, May 20, 2008

a love letter to Japanese painting

I'm gradually getting back into the pace of NY after some time away - thanks to large doses of caffeine which are a poor substitute for the beach but you work with what you've got. I came across this great essay on Japanese art at 3Quarksdaily by Elatia Harris. This is a compelling personal account of a lifelong journey that begins with one woman's childhood reverie and the great tradition of Japanese art.


Thanks to Elise Grilli, I was beginning to understand there were two long traditions in Japanese painting that occasionally inter-penetrated but were also separate. Very roughly, there was a tradition that overwhelmingly reflected the civilization-changing influence of China and Buddhism, and one that was Japan's unique contribution to world art, with each flaring into greater vitality at different times over almost 1500 years. Another distinction to look out for was that between art of a private, contemplative nature -- a scroll that is unfolded slowly in the hands, a poem card -- and art best understood as a large element in an entire surround, like the screens above. In the West, the same distinction might attach to the difference between drawing and painting, the former usually done by artists for themselves, the latter having a necessarily public intention. In the West, too, the same artist might excel -- that is, live equally -- in both drawing and painting, but in Japan, with staggering though very few exceptions, art that was contemplative would not issue from the mind or hands of a great decorator-painter.

Image: Trees in Fog, Hasegawa Tohaku, 16th century - Japan's "most-loved" painting.

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